With American citizen turned al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki allegedly behind three recent terrorist attacks in and above the US, it’s quite obvious that we would like to have him in our custody as soon as possible. Awlaki remains holed up in Yemen, where traveling college students from Nigeria and recently naturalized American citizens can gain access to him but Yemeni authorities can’t seem to find him. Even if they could, as Eli Lake reports, they have no intention at all of extraditing him to the US:
Yemen’s government has announced it will not extradite Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born jihadist cleric who is credited with inspiring the recent wave of anti-American terrorist plots by al Qaeda recruits.
Over the weekend, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al Qirbi said Mr. al-Awlaki would be tried in the Arabian Peninsula state once he is captured.
“The man the U.S. wants to be extradited will stand trial in Yemen under the national law,” Mr. al Qirbi was quoted as saying in the Yemen state news agency, al Saba.
Earlier in the weekend, Mr. al Qirbi told the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Dar that “because of his recent terrorist activity, al-Awlaki is now wanted by the Yemeni government. Hence, he must be tried … in his homeland, but never by other governments.”
In case people wonder whether this is payback for the delay in freeing almost 100 Yemeni jihadis from Gitmo, the problem is more fundamental. The Yemeni constitution does not allow the extradition of Yemeni citizens, and Awlaki has citizenship in both countries. They’re not likely to abrogate their constitution for our sake in any case, as the transfer of Awlaki to American custody in particular could cause even more serious unrest than Yemen already faces.
It still calls into question why we’re concerned at all about returning Yemenis from Gitmo, especially since the Yemeni court and prison system is a laughable joke. If Yemen puts him on trial, we may get some intel from him and from the Yemenis. However, he’ll be out of prison in no time, as will any Yemeni terrorists we send back, either in a very convenient “jailbreak” or by paying for their release. We’d be back to square one with all of the jihadists.
With that in mind, one can see why Barack Obama has opted for drone strikes on suspected AQ hideouts rather than waiting for Yemen to capture Awlaki. For one thing, it’s questionable whether the Yemenis are all that interested in the job, but even if they are, a Yemeni prosecution doesn’t fix the problem. Since we can’t capture him ourselves — not without invading Yemen in force — we’ll have to settle for the next-best thing, assuming we can find him ourselves.